By Alissa Reinhard American Ninja Warrior. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s only one of the most action-packed series on television today filled with challenging obstacle courses, intense competition and awe inspiring, incredible athletes. One of those athletes, Nico Gentry, New Braunfels native and Canyon High School graduate, competed on the show during the San Antonio qualifiers this June. Nico flew through the course, making it all the way to the Sky Hooks – an incredible feat for any competitor, but perhaps a bit more remarkable for this particular athlete. Why? Nico is legally blind.
“I was born with a neurological disorder called Nystagmus, which causes my eyes to shake back and forth, making it much harder for my brain to process what I’m seeing,” explained Nico. “This becomes especially difficult when things are moving relative to my eyes. Because I can’t track a point to focus on, my natural balance and coordination are limited.”
The intensity of Nico’s condition intensifies dramatically with stress, nerves and exhaustion – everything one could expect to encounter while flying through the American Ninja Warrior course. However, since Nico was born with the condition, it became somewhat “normal” for him.
“I’ve learned my way around my limitations,” he explained. “I also started training in marital arts at a very young age, so I developed my own sense of balance and depth perception and learned to control my body well enough to overcome most of the physical limitations associated with my vision.”
Nico’s road to American Ninja Warrior fame was quite the wild ride. He had always hoped to one day compete on the show, but with over 77,000 applicants this year, he figured it was a long shot. However, some of his college buddies and workout partners convinced him to apply.
“Before I knew it I was staring down the course wondering what I had gotten myself into!” said Nico.
It was difficult for Nico to balance his last semester with preparing for the show, but he was determined to make it work. He had limited obstacle training in College Station during the months leading up to the show until a local gym installed a ninja course that he could train on.
“There, I was able to get a quick feel for some of the basics and learn how to visualize obstacles in my head, so that when my eyes started to fail me, I would still have a good idea of where things should be,” he explained. “But the obstacles on the show were a complete mystery until I got there, so there was no way to be fully prepared.”
When Nico finally saw the course, he knew he’d have to learn on the fly – but the obstacles weren’t the only thing on his mind.
“Being a part of the Ninja Warrior experience is crazy,” said Nico. “It’s a larger than life production with so many things going on at once. You’re doing interviews, taking pictures and running all over the place, when all you can think about are the obstacles you just saw for the first time ever.”
The moments leading up to Nico’s run were intense, to say the least. Screaming fans, bright lights, and the pressure of being on live television would be a lot for anyone to handle. Add a neurological disorder that severely impacts your sight in an extremely visual course and most would crack under the pressure. However, Nico shined.
Cheered on by his family, Nico flew through the first obstacle, the floating steps, swung through the second obstacle with ease, high stepped over the spinning bridge, making it all the way to the sky hooks.
“It was very nerve racking and stressful as a first-time competitor,” explained Nico. “The pressure is indescribable and the course feels like a monster. But I imagine I’ll be more comfortable with everything next year.”
That’s right, he said next year! There’s no stopping this American Ninja Warrior.
“The biggest take away from this experience is that no matter what your circumstances are in life, you can overcome them and chase your dreams,” Nico stated. “To me, the point of American Ninja Warrior is to show the world that there are no excuses! Life is too short to sit around feeling sorry for yourself. You have to tackle your personal obstacles, get out there, and do something awesome. Whether that’s running a marathon, jumping out of an airplane, or doing crazy obstacles on national TV, you can do it! You just have to believe in yourself, and you have to be willing to work hard. If you can do that, the sky’s the limit!”